Soldiers deployed in the Kruger National Park along with South African National Parks (SANParks) officials have arrested another three heavily armed poachers. Three men were arrested Thursday after being found in possession of an AK47 assault rifle and ammunition and a hunting rifle with ammunition.
The suspected poachers also had a hand grenade, two axes, three backpacks, two Nokia cellphones, two water bottles, bread and three cans of fish.
“In the case where rhino-poaching manifests as a cross-border crime activity, the SANDF will act within the framework of its present mandate as per the Defence Act of 2002 Section 18(1) (d). The SANDF contributes and plays a very critical role in the curbing of rhino-poaching as part of their support to SANParks along the Kruger National Park which borders the neighbouring countries,” the Joint Operations Division of the South African National Defence Force said in a statement.
“The Constitution stipulates that the SANDF shall protect the territorial integrity and safeguarding the sovereignty of the republic. In this regard, the SANDF is in the Kruger National Park to ensure that this mandate is carried out.”
The statement did not provide any detail on where the men were arrested, or what happened to them afterwards. Normal practice is to hand them over to the police at Skukuza after which the men should appear before the local Magistrate’s Court. The role of SANParks officials in this arrest is also opaque. The statement also lacked background on the number of arrests by the military since deploying into the park in early April.
The SANDF deployed a company (about 165 troops) into the KNP in April after an absence of several years. Some 333 rhinos were killed in South African parks 2010, 122 in 2009 and 83 in 2008, versus only ten being killed in South Africa’s parks in 2007. Some 173 had been gunned down by last month, some 120 in the KNP alone. The surge in the number of rhinos killed follows an increase in the demand for rhino horn in Vietnamese and Chinese traditional medicine, despite the fact that the horn contains no medicinal properties as it consists of keratin, the same material human finger nails and hair is made up of. Researchers say that some people in Vietnam believe that rhino horn can cure cancer. As Asia’s rhino population has been pushed to the brink of extinction by hunting and deforestation, consumers have been looking to South Africa to meet their demands.
According to a SANParks statement early last month, some 122 suspected poachers had been arrested nationwide by the beginning of June, of which 60 were detained in the KNP. Twenty suspected poachers have been killed and 10 injured in clashes with authorities. Of this figure, 15 suspected poachers have died and nine wounded during contacts with rangers and soldiers in the KNP alone.
According to the WWF, South Africa has more than 80% of Africa’s total rhino population. Former Minister of Water and Environmental Affairs, Buyelwa Sonjica, last year said South Africa had around 19 000 white and 1750 black rhinos.